Things I Know 222 of 365: I want to build stuff

Teachers would have to be knowledgeable about experience, academic knowledge, and learning, knowing these territories as well as mountain guides knew theirs.

– David K. Cohen

I haven’t built anything in a while.

My friend Vanessa is in the Technology in Education program here. Each of her classes is shaped around a semester-long project in which she and her classmates work together to complete a project in which they build an education object for use or consumption in the bigger world.

My semester is shaping up to be consumptive.

I’ve read a couple hundred pages of scholarly work in the last few weeks and written a few briefs analyzing and reacting to what I’ve read. My brain is exploding with ideas, questions and intense moments of “Oo, I want to try that right now!” As I said in my last post, it’s pushed me to put all this thinking down on the record for when I’m able to put it into practice – a sort of daily diary or my reading diet.

Vanessa’s is shaping up to be iterative.

She’s pitched projects, formed groups and started building wireframes of the project she’s heading up. She’s working on leveraging funding for the pieces of the project that exist outside her wheelhouse and finding a home for it in the wide world when all’s said and done.

I just finished reading “Teaching Practice: Plus Que Ca Change…” by David Cohen from Contributing to Educational Change: Perspectives on Research and Practice. Cohen examines Deweyian educational reforms and why they appear to have stalled or gone sour since the 1950s. In his analysis, Cohen writes, “…teachers must take on a large agenda: helping students abandon the safety of rote learning, instruct them in framing and teasing hypotheses, and build a climate of tolerance for others’ ideas and a curiosity about unusual answers, among other things.”

Various pieces of Cohen’s list of necessities for “adventurous teaching” are in place, but I wonder where the building and teasing of hypotheses will come in.

Vanessa’s cohort is building real things. They’ll be creating, failing, taking apart and re-building all semester.

I’m curious as to how much of that I’ll be doing outside of the sterile protection of case studies.
Ideally we’d be building the institutions we all had in mind when we applied in the same way a student would learn math and design by building structures with authentic purposes.

At heart, I realize the difference between Vanessa’s program and my own. If any of the groups in her classes fails, it is to the detriment of their portfolios. If those in my cohort were to fail at any type of authentic adventurous learning, the impact would extend beyond our own personal failures.

Still, we got in the door. And, for almost a decade, I’ve been trusted to experiment and iterate responsibly with my classroom as a playground without harming the students in my charge.

Let us build schools or systems of professional development. Start by letting us ask the questions that lead to the problems. Then, guide us in forming both the structures and understandings surrounding the solutions of those problems.

Some of this comes from the stagnation I feel in not creating unit plans or working to help run a school this semester.

All of it helps me to understand how it feels for students of any level when we ask them to put down what is real in their world’s and trust us when we promise that what we ask them to do will be important in the future.

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